Eating disorders are a serious health concern in industrialized nations. The US-based National Eating Disorders Association estimates 36 million Americans suffer from anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or binge eating disorders.
Eating disorders can affect people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic groups, although Caucasian women in middle to high socioeconomic ranges are most commonly affected. Women comprise the majority of cases, but men are increasingly diagnosed with eating disorders.
Eating Disorders and Weight Loss
People with eating disorders commonly base their sense of worth on weight loss. For instance, an anorexic’s self-esteem may revolve around weight loss. In contrast, a person suffering from a binge or compulsive eating disorder feels guilt and shame that they cannot control their eating or subsequent weight gain.
Complications of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders can have serious consequences. Anorexia has a mortality rate of anywhere between ten to twenty percent, and can result in low blood pressure, heart disease, and wasted muscle mass.
Binge eating, a hallmark of both bulimia and compulsive eating, may cause nutritional deficiencies, and increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. A higher than normal incidence rate for certain cancers is also associated with binge eating, as is a risk of esophageal or gastric rupture. The “purging” associated with bulimia nervosa can erode dental enamel, lead to laxative abuse, and cause low blood pressure.
Emotionally, eating disorders are devastating, and associated with an abnormal perception of body image, depression, low self-esteem, and other psychological difficulties. People suffering from anorexia often are unaware that they have a problem, and tend to resist treatment.
Eating disorders are complex diseases, requiring careful treatment, support and professional counseling. As our medical understanding of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders grows, new and more effective treatments will hopefully be discovered. A change in social perceptions of body image would no doubt help, but such changes occur slowly. The “body beautiful” is likely to continue to haunt us for some time.